Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ring in the New Year with Professional Learning

It is hard to believe that we will be saying goodbye to 2014 and welcoming 2015 in less than a day. The new year offers a perfect time to reflect on the years past, and make resolutions for 2015. This year, in addition to the resolutions that focus on weight loss, making more time for friends and family, etc., make a resolution for your professional learning!

Below find the most up to date, free of charge offerings happening throughout the Massachusetts area.

Massachusetts Focus Academy Spring Offerings:

Looking for a way to earn either a 3-credit online graduate course or 67.5 PDP's? The Massachusetts Focus Academy is a great place to start. Classes are rigorous and offer participants the ability to dive into professional learning with other educators. Courses run from January 19th through early May. A few courses being offered this spring include Assessment of Students with Disabilities Who are English Language Learners (ELLS), Collaborative Co-Teaching in Inclusion Classrooms, Differentiated Instruction, Partnering with Families of Preschool and Elementary School Students with Disabilities. Space is limited, and the deadline for applications is Tuesday, January 6th! For more information on how to apply, and a full list of course offerings and descriptions click here.

PARCC Practice Test Regional Sessions:

Interested in learning more about the PARCC assessment? These regional "pop-up" sessions are worth the day out of the classroom. Facilitated by PARCC fellows, participants will learn more about the PARCC assessment, navigate a sample PARCC test, learn about the tools associated with the online platform and have time to plan with other members of their school or district. I have personally attended one of these sessions, and prior to felt somewhat comfortable with the online platform, however through this I learned more about the embedded tools, and much, much more. PARCC Fellows have recently added two sessions in January. One will be held on January 13th at Framingham State University in Framingham and the other on January 27th at Wakefield Memorial High School in Wakefield, MA.  You must sign up for this FREE session, and from past experience, space is limited and goes quickly. To register, click here.

I hope that everyone has a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Establishing Norms... Worth Every Second!

Creating a collaborative and trusting classroom community takes planning, routines and management. Outside the classroom educators are part of a larger, collaborative community. Just as it is important to create and establish trust with our students, it takes the same type of careful planning to create an adult learning community. One way to cultivate these communities is to as a group generate norms. This week I would like to share some "norm" building resources to bring back to your PLC and school community.

The first resource takes us into a Middle School in Washington. The principal in the video discusses the importance of building a strong leadership team through establishing norms. Teachers and other faculty through the building speak to the importance of setting norms when coming together as a new group. They say that this is one of the first activities they engage in together. This sets the tone, and allows teachers parameters when discussing a variety of topics.

So how where do you begin? The National Staff Development Council provides an activity based resource/protocol on developing norms collaboratively. If you scroll to the 3rd and 4th page of this resource you will find the protocol as well as a chart which defines 6 areas to consider when creating norms (Time, Listening, Confidentiality, Decision Making, Participation, Expectations). It is a great resource and visual to work off of as a group.

Finally, The U.S. Department of the State cites Seven Norms of Collaboration on their webpage. In addition, they provide a rationales and round robin activity where groups think about how and if they are working collaboratively.

Collaboration is an important piece of school culture. We expect and want our students to work with others. It is just as important for us as adults to practice what we preach in our own day to day meetings with others. Generating norms does not have to take a lot of time, but when needed are worth every second.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Talk, Talk, Talk

This week I sat in a Learning Walkthrough and had an engaging conversation with a staff member. We were talking about best practice, when suddenly it hit her - we communicate how turn and talks can be effective tools to encourage discourse in the classroom, however without proper training on questioning strategies, routine management and thinking flexibly the turn and talk can loose its ability to be the strategic practice it is meant to be. This week I wanted to provide a few resources which reinforce the turn and talk strategy.

The first is an article by Lucy West titled, Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice, So Many Uses. This article discusses the instructional strategies of turn and talk, think-pair-share and partner talk. With these instructional practices in mind, West explains the pedagogy and why these strategies are effective. In addition, she provides explanations around the "Benefits of Turn & Talk", "10 Clues that Indicate It's Time to Turn and Talk", "Pitfalls In Facilitating Turn & Talk" and "Tips for Facilitation". What I love about this article is that it is a quick, concise reference. Whether your staff has new teachers facilitating for the first time or is comprised of novice teachers looking for a quick "ah-ha"; this is a great resource to refer them to.  

As I have referenced in many other posts, teachingchannel.org offers videos which show best practices in action. I wanted to highlight two different videos. One comes out of a fifth grade classroom. This video highlights facilitating a larger conversation around text as a whole group. Stacy Brewer (the teacher) has instilled routines and set expectations in her classroom when facilitating a whole group discussion. The second video takes us into a high school history classroom. Here the teacher, Shilpa Duvoor talks about the physical routine of turn and talk in her classroom. She highlights how the physical position of the students helps to foster and encourage discourse around meaty academic topics.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Integration of Initiatives through Edwin Teaching and Learning

About a month ago I attended one of the Edwin Teaching and Learning roadshows in Tauton. This week I met with two integral parts of the Thinkgate team to learn more about the ins and outs of what Edwin Teaching and Learning has to offer. What I quickly realized is that Edwin Teaching and Learning has integrated many initiatives acting as a platform to house DDMs, access curriculum (including MCUs), create summative and formative assessments and generate data reports and graphs all in one place. This week my focus is to provide you with some insight and resources I have discovered through my meetings and professional development on Edwin Teaching and Learning.

The first resource is none other than ESE's Edwin Teaching and Learning website. This page will provide you with an extensive overview of the Edwin Teaching and Learning product, including SIF compliance, introductory videos, presentations and the commitment form for those districts interested in utilizing this FREE tool (Edwin Teaching and Learning will be free of cost for the 2014-2015 school year. At this time ESE is uncertain of or if there will be a cost associated with this resource in the future).

For those districts who have already committed to Edwin, there are a few additional resources out there to assist you in bringing this tool to life. 

Edwin Teaching and Learning offers free one hour webinars. You can register for these, free of charge on the ESE website. Upcoming webinars include:

Assessment Results for Teachers-Images and Addendums 12/11 at 12:00pm, 3:00pm, and 4:00pm

Edwin Teaching & Learning Executive Overview - Wednesday, January 23 Noon - 1PM 
Assessment and Reporting - Wednesday, January 30 Noon - 1PM

Curriculum, Instruction and Resources - Wednesday, February 6 Noon - 1PM 

The newest resource I would like to highlight is Thinkgate TV. Thinkgate (the company partnered with ESE providing the instructional improvement system) has developed Thinkgate TV as a way to reach a broader audience in training/assisting professionals of all levels using the Edwin Teaching and Learning platform. Here you will find dozens of tutorial videos that support utilizing Edwin Teaching and Learning through every step of the process. This is a new resource so stay tuned for additional videos to be posted as Thinkgate TV grows. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Practice makes PARCCfect!

This week I attended a PARCC Practice Test Session put on by Susan Whettle and two PARCC fellows. Like many educators, we know PARCC is coming and are immersed in teaching to the standards, but have we taken the time to really explore the PARCC assessment and everything it has to offer? This week I thought I would share some highlights from this training.

If you have not taken the PARCC tutorial, I highly recommend that you take the time to do so. This tutorial will walk you through the different tools held within the PARCC test. As someone who had perused through the different grade level assessments previously, I found this tutorial incredibly helpful. Some tools to note were:
The Answer Eliminator: This tool allows students to "cross out" answers they know do not belong in order to narrow down the potential correct answers.  
The Line Reader: This tool allows students to focus in on one sentence, paragraph or section of the text, isolating it from the remaining text on the page. Students are able to adjust the width, and height of the text window to use it flexibly. 

Answer Masking: This tool allows students to hide all of the answers and reveal them as they work through the question. It allows students to isolate and think through each answer at a time.
In addition to the tools shown above, I was able to navigate the text, use highlighting, and tinkered around with how to enlarge the movies on the screen (Ctrl+ to magnify and Ctrl- to shrink). As I finished the navigation tutorial, I realize how informative it was for me to tinker around with these tools in a nonthreatening way. If this free time to maneuver was valuable to me, imagine the impact it would provide students to understand how the tools work, and have the chance to practice using them in order to gain confidence now rather than cramming it in right before the test.

Finally, the Fellows highlighted Educite.com, a resource which provides practice to standards aligned questions in an online platform. There are hundreds of questions, organized by grade level, and standard within this website. It is a great place to go for additional practice for students to use the technology of PARCC with grade level appropriate questions.

I hope that within your incredibly busy schedules, you can find the time to explore these resources further. The more exposure and practice we can provide our students to these next generation assessments, can increase their comfort and confidence leading into the new year.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Learning From Student Work

I hope that everyone is enjoying some much deserved time off with family and friends. In the spirit of being thankful, this week I would like to give thanks to you…. the teachers, school leaders and administrators. Your dedication to your students, staff and school is what creates promise for the generations to come. Thank you.

As we move into December, educators know their students. They have assessed, are progress monitoring, and continue to push their students to engage in new content. One protocol teachers can bring to PLCs or grade level meetings is Learning from Student Work. What I love about this protocol is that it gives educators a time to engage with each other in professional dialogue around instruction. Before looking at two resources, take a look at the Teaching Channel’s video of educators engaging in this practice.

Atlas’ Learning from Student Work protocol is featured on the National School Reform Faculty website. This resource serves as a tool to guide teachers in discovering what students understand and how they are thinking. The protocol takes about one hour, if followed closely and provides educators an opportunity to really dive into one students work in order to analyze their learning and understanding. What comes out of this conversation are misconceptions, next steps and reteaching opportunities.

Many times teachers engage in the routine of learning from student work. However, educators can bring this practice back to the classroom in a different way. Examining Student Work: A Constructivist Protocol invites students to join in on the conversation. In this protocol, students undergo a “self assessment” with the ultimate goal of generating insights and increasing student investment in their work. Why not provide students the opportunity to reflect with the hopes of increasing their engagement and investment?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reading, Technology and PARCC

Whether or not your school district is taking PARCC this year, we know that our state assessment will undergo a makeover. In order to prepare for the next generation of assessments, this week's blog will be highlight two resources that offer content and integration of the ELA Frameworks (Common Core) integrated with technology, as well as a recently released document from PARCC. 
In case you were not aware, PARCC has released  K-2 and 3-11 Content Model Frameworks in both ELA and Mathematics. These frameworks (aligned to the Common Core State Standards) were developed to help educators pace and clarify areas of emphasis in each grade. Additionally, the recently released K-2 frameworks serve as a guide for educators as they develop formative tasks to help inform instruction and provide data as to how their students are doing in mastering the standards.

As districts shift to PARCC, educators will be requiring students to read, annotate and analyze online. In order to provide students opportunities to feel comfortable there are two resources I would like to spotlight.

StudySync is a grades 4 - 12 service with an extensive library of classic and contemporary literature as well as hundreds of poetry, short story, speeches and nonfiction contemporary texts. The product provides an annotation and highlighting tool allowing students to access texts and media clip online. This is a purchasable resource that offers a 60 day trial for educators.
Diigo is another online resource which allows you to access a wide array of informational and fiction texts. Similar to StudySync, Diigo allows students to highlight, annotate and use sticky notes when accessing a text. All texts are saved on the cloud, allowing students to save their work and access it from home, or at school. Additionally, students can send their notes and thinking to others- a nice feature for small group and even as a check-in for teachers. Diigo has multiple levels of subscription. The basic allows access to parts of the digital library. As in any resource, the more you pay, the more you get.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Accessing Complex Texts in Middle School

Over the past few weeks I have spoken with middle school educators around how to help students who are not reading on grade level access complex, grade level texts. Over the past years we have seen a slight rise in Lexile Levels, an increase in ELL students and a growing gap in grade level demands. Additionally, many educators believe that foundational reading skills are taught during elementary school years, moving us away from strategies and into content as students reach middle school. This week I would like to provide a few thoughts and resources to address this growing problem.                             

If you are a middle school teacher, there is a Model Curriculum Unit gem hidden amongst the units online. The unit is called Starting Complex Text Mini-Unit and was designed to explicitly teach strategies students need in order to comprehend and discuss a longer text. It was written using the 5th grade text, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. Don’t let the 5th grade book fool you. What you will find inside this unit are differentiated reading options for struggling students. These include instructional practices such as paired reading, using an audio version of the text, or creating small groups. As you reading through the individual lessons, educators will find even more differentiated options and ideas.  What I love about this unit is that is follows the thinking of providing students in Middle with explicit reading instruction that is differentiated to meet their needs.

I am a big believer in the power of academic conversations around a complex text. I find that providing students’ opportunities to share their thinking allows a deeper interaction for the students to analyze and internalize texts, themes and big ideas. Recently the Teaching Channel released a new video and the accompanying teaching and instructional materials around deepening text analysis through student talk. In this video you will be transported into a 6th grade classroom where the teacher, Viet-ly Nguyen sets expectations for the assignment. You can see how she takes time to lay ground rules around talk through a participation protocol. Additionally, she speaks about planning questions that are debatable or have multiple answers and reasoning to enhance overall comprehension for her students. By setting the stage, she is putting them in control of their learning. Additionally, Nguyen speaks about pairing ELL or struggling students with stronger students in order for them to hear the academic language and fluency in the classroom. This video can be used to help inform teachers of what an engaged conversation looks like, and the planning which coincides in order to make the lesson a success.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing in Action

Writing in Action

Many educators are still addressing the increase in writing about text with the implementation of the 2011 ELA frameworks. This week I wanted to highlight two different resources for educators to reference as they address the need to increase writing within the curriculum.

Educators, parents and students often ask, “What does good student writing at this grade level look like?”
The answer lies in the writing itself.
This ESE derived project came out of the need for educators to have access to exemplar samples of grade level student work to help inform their teaching. On this site, educators can currently find writing samples of students in grades 2-8 for opinion/argument, inform/explain and narrate assignments. This project is currently a “work in progress” as they are requesting educators submit samples from their classroom. Their ultimate goal is to provide exemplars for grades K-12 in writing categories of argument/opinion, inform/explain and narrate. These exemplars are accompanied by teacher commentary and reasoning of what teachers should look for in high quality student writing. These samples are not only informative for teachers as they think about their own student writing, but can serve as student exemplars for educators to use within their classroom as instructional tools.

AchievetheCore.org is another website filled with samples of exemplar student writing along with annotation for educators and the original writing prompt. As I have probably referenced in a previous lesson, Achieve the Core also houses hundreds of lessons aligned to the common core standards. This website houses more student exemplars, teacher comments and prompt information when compared to the Writing Standards in Action website.

What I love about these resources is that both offer authentic examples of student writing. They offer teacher insight into what exemplar grade level writing should look like, and can also be used as models and teaching points within classrooms.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tech Time

Yesterday, while at the Curriculum & Instruction Summit on initiative integration, I sat in on one breakout session on one teacher’s integration of technology in the classroom. This particular teacher had found ways to incorporate technology with only four student computers, a Smartboard and thirty minutes of media time every other week. I wanted to share with you some of the free resources she spoke about.

Think of it as the Facebook for educators and students. Edmodo is a multi-faceted website that offers teachers access in different ways. One way teachers can use Edmodo is to communicate with each other; think of it as a professional learning community. In one school district I used to work in we would subscribe to different school and district leader’s pages. Here they would post links to articles, helpful information, and other school related materials on their site. In addition I was able to subscribe to other educator groups and discussion rooms created based on content area or grade level learning. This is just the beginning of what Edmodo has to offer. Teachers can also set up classroom groups. Each student receives an account. Teachers can post lessons, assignments, create smaller groups around a topic and communicate with their students using this interface. Students have the ability to message the teacher, and the teacher can decide whether or not to allow students to message each other. Students do not need their own email address in order to sign up, the teacher can create independent accounts for his/her. A new feature recently added to Edmodo is the Snapshot for teachers and schools to use. This feature allows teachers to create pre/post/interim assessments aligned to a common core standard and generate a “quiz” testing students on their knowledge of the standard. Data is generated into reports, and then sent to the teacher who has the ability to send out supplemental lessons to support reteaching of the standards to those students who need more support.

LearnZillion is a free resource offering teacher’s lessons, PD and other classroom materials aligned to the common core standards. This site developed out of the idea for educational professionals to share Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), with each other throughout the country. LearnZillion is directly linked to Edmodo and educators can access their lessons and materials through the Edmodo account.

Sick and tired of bookmarking hundreds of pages, only to discover you cannot find what you are looking for? Are there websites that you would like your students to have access to, regardless of what computer they logged into? Symbaloo is the answer you are looking for. It allows you to create an account where you can store all of your favorite sites as tiles (if you love visual cues this is the one for you!) you can access from any computer. Just sign into this account and a screen will come up with your saved sites. You can create an access login for your class and link trusted websites for students to access at home as well as in school.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebrate Family Literacy Month this November!

Governor Patrick has issued a Proclamation declaring November 2014 as Massachusetts Family Literacy Month.  This marks the 18th year that our state is acknowledging and celebrating the important role that families play in their children’s literacy development.  Across the state, many schools, libraries, adult learning centers, parent support programs, social service agencies, and local businesses provide organized activities for families during Family Literacy Month. Many of these events involve hands-on literacy activities for parents and children that demonstrate how parents can engage with their children at home. Storytelling, family math nights, readings by authors and community leaders, interactive sing-a-longs, and creating books and bookmarks are examples of family learning activities. Please share this information with your staff and community partners and take advantage of the following resources to celebrate Family Literacy Month.

On the ESE website there is a link to different resources for districts and schools to use to promote Family Literacy. Click on the hyperlink below to take you to these resources.

Finally, Commissioner Chester, of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has issued a message encouraging school districts, libraries, adult learning centers, parent support programs, social service agencies, and local businesses to collaborate and provide activities for families during this month. 

Please visit http://www.doe.mass.edu/familylit/month/announcement.html for ESE Commissioner Chester’s announcement, Governor Patrick’s 2014 Proclamation and resources.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rigor, Rigor, Rigor

Recently, I have participated in many conversations and sat in professional development meetings focused on the question “how can we raise the rigor of our instruction in the classroom?” I thought this week I would explore the idea of “rigor” and provide a few different resources on this popular buzzword.

What is rigor? This is a consistent question asked throughout schools, districts and within personal conversations. I have heard different definitions of this word, but one definition that captures rigor in relation to the classroom is, “the level of engagement, skills and knowledge needed to successfully meet challenging expectations.”  Professor John Hattie (University of Melbourne) further describes what rigor in a school looks like as “rarely silent and deadening, and it (is) often intense, buzzing and risky.”

I think I cannot talk about rigor without talking about Carol Dweck’s work, centered on promoting a growth mindset. In the article, Even Geniuses Work Hard, Dweck talks about ways educators we can foster a growth mindset in their students, pushing them to believe that they have the capacity and brainpower to stretch themselves educationally. Angela Lee Duckworth, during her Ted Talk discussed the importance of instilling this growth mindset, ultimately pushing students to become “gritty” in their learning. Grit and growth mindset go hand in hand and when fostered in a classroom can promote the rigor which so many professionals are seeking.

What resources out there exist to help us think about ways to increase the rigor in the classroom? A resource from the EngageNY website is a fantastic place to start. Uncommon Schools compiled a list of data driven classroom practices focused on providing teachers with direction and ideas on how to “up the ante” of their students. For example, this resource offers reflection on tightening objectives and questioning in order to increase engagement. Additionally, it offers ideas and suggestions on peer-to-peer support strategies, wait time and even how to move homework away from being “busy work” and towards useful learning opportunities and resources.

A second resource to look at would be the protocols on the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) website. These protocols include educational activities such as gallery walks, inquiry circles, and jigsaw to name a few. These protocols promote student conversation and engagement putting the students in the role of active participant. They can be implemented throughout lessons and units to boost participation within the group. Additionally, this website offers protocols for professional learning for adults within schools such as examining student work, ghost visits and student observations. Educators can access these in order to increase their knowledge and raise the level of expectations they have within the classroom. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fall into Professional Learning

Now that the new school year is in swing, I wanted to point out a few opportunities for educators to increase their professional knowledge.

 On Saturday, October 18th, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is hosting its 87th biannual Reunion Weekend. If you are unaware of what this entails, it is a day jam packed with over 125 FREE K-8 professional development workshops. The lineup and schedule of presenters typically is released a few days prior to the 18th, however this day never ceases to disappoint. Senior Project staff, including Lucy Calkins and TCRWP staff developers will all present on this day on a plethora of topics, such as:

"argument writing, embedding historical fiction in nonfiction text sets, opinion writing for very young writers, managing workshop instruction, aligning instruction to the CCSS, using performance assessments and curriculum maps to ratchet up the level of teaching, state-of-the-art test prep, phonics, guided reading and more.”
Additionally, this year the key speaker will be David Booth, profession Emeritus in Education at the University of Toronto and author of such professional books such as, Reading Doesn’t Matter Anymore, The Literacy Principle, Guiding the Reading Process, and Even Hockey Players Read.

If you have never experienced a TC Reunion weekend, it is important to check the website leading up to the 18th for the lineup of PDs, a map of where they the different speakers will be throughout Columbia University. Additionally, a pair of sneakers is recommended as it is important to hustle between sessions in order to find a seat.
(Teaser: This is a biannual event - the spring reunion will be held on Saturday, March 28th and will feature key note speaker Patricia Polacco!!)

At the end of October, the Massachusetts Department of Education Office of Curriculum & Instruction will be hosting its annual C&I Curriculum Summit:  Initiative Integration: Putting the Pieces Together. This is an opportunity for district and school leaders to

“continue making strides implementing major statewide initiatives to enhance the achievement of our students: educator evaluation, implementation of the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, the transition to next generation assessments, and RETELL.”

The goal is this two day summit is to provider leaders in education with the tools and knowledge to continue to strengthen their knowledge of implementation of different initiatives, while gaining a broader understanding of how they integrate with each other.

This summit is held on Monday, October 27th and repeated on Tuesday, October 28th in order to reach as many potential school and district leaders as possible. Information and Registration information can be found at:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Opening the Door on Close Reading

Last week in my blog I spoke about close reading. As promised, this week I wanted to provide educators with three resources as a reference point as they begin thinking about close reading in the classroom.

 Achieve the Core is a great place to start. What I love about this website is that it is full of FREE content designed to help educators implement the Common Core standards. The creators of Achieve the Core have developed a plethora of featured close reading lessons, offering free access for educators. For example, in third grade, there is a close reading of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. The lesson includes extensive guidance, questions and even a mini-assessment for teachers to follow and use in their classrooms. Achieve the Core does not only offer ELA close reading lessons, but also has social studies and history lessons located on this website.

Speaking of history and social studies teachers, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s ARCH (Assessment Resource Center for History) has lessons and resources for teachers to access based on readings from six eras of U.S. history. In addition to created lessons, this site offers teachers performance tasks (including rubrics) and samples of student work for teachers to access and refer to when implementing within their own curriculum.

Finally, there are numerous books out there on the strategy of close reading. One book I have seen on the desks at people throughout the office is the book, Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. In this book Lehman and Roberts refer to close reading as reading a text through a lens for a purpose. The book is organized by these “lenses” in which students can focus their reading. They include text evidence, word choice, structure, point of view, reading across texts and for independence. This resource is jam packed with information and provides student examples from the classroom. If you were to purchase one book about close reading, you would not be disappointed with this choice.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Close Reading.... Have you Heard of It??

It seems as though educators cannot escape the buzz word “close reading”. How many times have you heard coaches, administrators or even fellow colleagues use this term already this year. I too, have to admit that I am a gluten for close reading and often refer to it when I am out in the field. The term has been used so much that it even prompted Dave Stuart Jr. of  “Teach the Core” to comically write an Obituary to Close Reading to only come back a day later and publish a new post, Moving Forward with Close Reading. However, Stuart’s point in killing off close reading, was not to murder the concept, but rather address the important and lingering question surrounding it, what in fact does close reading mean and why are we constantly talking about it?

Reading a text closely has always lived within education. The shift to the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks (also known as the Common Core State Standards) revitalized the concept and brought the strategy into the forefront of our thinking. Hopefully you are not as geeky as I and carry multiple copies of the frameworks in your car, have them in your work bag and even on the bedside table, but for anyone familiar with the 2011 MA  ELA Frameworks (CCSS),  you will see idea of close reading referred to on the majority of pages. I challenge you to look! In fact turn to the Anchor Standards page and sure enough under Key Ideas and Details. Look what happens to be the first anchor standard listed:

Key Ideas and Details
1.     Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

To belabor the point, college level professors and educators have commented that the lack of extracting the author’s message and attending to details in a text has proven to show their weaknesses as incoming freshmen.  Scholes  and Katz went on to comment on the lack of readiness they see in incoming college freshmen as,

“I think that the new high school graduates I see (and sophomores with no previous lit classes) most lack close reading skills. Often they have generic concepts and occasionally they have some historical knowledge, though perhaps not as much as they should. I find that they are most inclined to substitute what they generally think a text should be saying for what it actually says, and lack a way to explore the intricacies and interests of the words on the page. Sometimes the historical knowledge and generic concepts actually become problems when students use them as tools for making texts say and do what students think they should, generalizing that all novels do X or poems do Y. Usually the result is that they want to read every text as saying something extremely familiar that they might agree with. I see them struggling the most to read the way texts differ from their views, to find what is specific about the language, address, assumptions etc.” (Tamar Katz, pers. com., 17 September 2001)

As educators forge ahead a need exists for students to analyze information from texts. Extracting information means that students need to remove their personal background experience in order to read critically and determine the author’s central message. This thinking comes with a mind shift for educators. As a previous elementary school teacher, early in my career I taught and stressed students to make text to self-connections. I realized this allowed for students to stray from the author’s purpose. Rather, they spent time grasping for any connection they could make with their own life, which pulled them further and further away. In actuality the idea of close reading is to use that text, read it once, twice, as many times as you need to with the goal of strengthening a students overall comprehension.

So how do we do this? What are some good resources? Next week I will explore some books and online tools to help educators tackle this very much living and breathing strategy and concept.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Massachusetts Focus Academy 2014

It’s that time of year again, there is a slight chill in the air, fall is right around the corner and the Massachusetts Focus Academy is ready for a new year, with new courses and applicants.

What is the Massachusetts Focus Academy?

The Massachusetts FOCUS Academy (MFA) offers courses that provide participants with skills, knowledge, and instructional strategies to improve outcomes for all students, including those with disabilities, in safe and supportive inclusive environments. Courses are taught primarily online. (See individual course descriptions for details.) Courses may be taken for PDPs or graduate credits.

What courses are being offered?

Below is a list of courses being offered. Click on the links for more information.

Who can register for these courses?

These courses are offered and available to administrators, classroom teachers, related service providers currently working in schools and cohorts of educators who work together.

How do I apply?

1.    Participants MUST enroll through their district administrator. This means that participants should contact their superintendent office and ask to speak with the individual in designated to enroll educators.
2.   Fill out the required forms and provide them to the district administrator (see Required Forms).
3.   The District administrator will email all completed enrollment form
4.   Sections are filled on a first-come first-served basis, so districts are encouraged to reach out to their educators and return enrollment forms as soon as possible.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Lisa DiVasta, DSAC Statewide Professional Development Coordinator at lisa.divasta@dsacma.org or call at 781.878.6056 x 142

Tuesday, September 2, 2014



Last week PARCC announced that they will be shortening the English Language Arts/Literacy End of the Year Test administered this year. This revision is a result of the PARCC field testing done last spring. How is this change going to affect you? Here is the nitty gritty of the change.

PARCC will reduce the number of reading passages and test questions. In grades 3-5, PARCC is dropping two sets of reading passages and 13 test questions. For grades 6-11, one reading passage and 4 test questions will be dropped. These changes will not affect the range of standards being measured through this test, rather it reduces the number of test questions used to measure a certain standard. At this point, it is unclear if this will impact the testing time, which has been a concern for test administrators. There may be more revisions as PARCC continues to analyze the data collected from the field test.

One final note, many people have inquired about websites and resources available for students to use in preparation for the PARCC test. The PARCC released items is one great place to start. Here you can have students see how the questions are structured and practice skills such as "drag and drop". In addition, Ohio (a state in the PARCC consortium) has compiled a Pearltree, that organizes an extensive list of online interactive activities. This list is a great place for educators to look through to better understand the technology tools and lingo used within the PARCC test. Additionally, this list provides multiple resources and information for teachers to provide exposure and experience for their students.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Promoting Growth Minded Students

If you subscribe to my colleague’s (Leah Tuckman) blog, you may have seen her post on developing a math mindset. In fact this whole idea of mindset has become a huge hot topic with the start of school lingering. So I felt as though I would jump on the bandwagon this week with my own spin on the importance of this issue.

This week as many educators are preparing their classrooms, planning their curriculum, or meeting their students, I am reminded of the opportunity to develop and foster a growth mindset in the classroom. This idea comes out of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck’s research found that the majority of people exhibit either a fixed or growth mindset. The graphic below compares the two types of individuals. A person with a fixed mindset believes that “they are the way they are”. It does not mean they cannot achieve and perform well, but when faced with challenges they tend to step back, sticking with what they know, rather than risk potential failure. On the opposite end, those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, since the brain is like a muscle, and that can be trained. In order to do so, they challenge and push their thinking past a comfortable place, reflect on feedback in order to improve and stretch their brain further originally thought.

So how can we promote and introduce this idea within the classroom? What distinguishes a person with a growth mindset over a fixed mindset? I think one way to inspire and show students what a growth mindset encompasses would be to introduce them to apricot farmer Chris. Hopefully, like me, you will be inspired by his story. In terms of mindset, Chris is a prime example of someone who embraces challenges and persists in the face of setbacks. The prominence of the growth mindset surrounds him, for example when Chris asked his father, “What did you do differently with me than you would have any other kid?” his father answered, “Nothing”. How easy would it have been to step back in the face of challenges? Rather, Chris’ can do and will do attitude is an inspiration to us all.

When I was in the classroom, I strove to use picture books (no matter the age) to additionally support these bigger ideas. One book which promotes and explains growth mindset is Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by JoAnn Deak, PhD. What I love about this book is that it talks about different kinds of learners, encourages making mistakes and challenges students to embrace hardships in learning. By doing this, it stretches our brains, ultimately increasing our confidence and knowledge.
Finally, Teach like a Champion author Doug Lemov’s “No Opt Out” strategy is one way teachers can develop and cultivate a growth mindset in the classroom. In actually, his entire book promotes the growth mindset, however this strategy stuck out to me as being an expectation teachers can present day one to their students. According to this strategy, students who fall back on the common response, “I don’t know” cannot opt out of answering a question. Rather, his approach offers four formats which begins with a student unable to answer the question and ends with that student giving the correct answer. This offers the “I don’t know” student the opportunity “to know” and gain confidence in the meantime. Some teachers have taken this strategy and made it their own. Lemov recently blogged about one teacher’s success in using and modifying the “No Opt Out” strategy in their classroom. Check out his post to learn more.

With the school year approaching, educators are in a unique position to establish expectations from the start. Why not use the ideas and research of Carol Dweck to establish and cultivate your students as growth mindset focused? It is yet another way we can continue to promote success for our students.